What’s the Difference Between AA, 12-Step Meetings and Group Therapy?

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What's the Difference Between AA, 12-Step Meetings and Group Therapy?

When discussing the various treatment options for recovering addicts, 12-step and fellowship meetings are always the main focus. The 12-step program is part of a healthy recovery plan, and 12-step members can attend the meetings forever. Fellowships offer support and guidance during times when a recovered addict would otherwise be likely to turn to drugs or alcohol.

The 12-Step Program IS the Foundation for Fellowship Meetings

So, what is the difference between 12-step programs and groups like Alcoholics Anonymous? Are they the same?

Fellowship groups like AA, CA and NA are all 12-step groups. They use the 12-step program to help members get sober, stay sober and help others achieve sobriety. In fact, the 12 steps were originally created by Alcoholics Anonymous to help understand the mental and emotional causes of addiction. The program is spiritually oriented and involves acknowledging one’s insufficiencies and accepting help from a Higher Power. The 12 steps are also used as a foundation for many addiction treatment and rehabilitation programs.

Here are some of the main focuses of the program, according to the American Psychological Association.

  • Admitting that you do not have control over your addiction
  • Recognizing that a Higher Power can provide you with strength
  • Examining past errors
  • Making amends for past errors
  • Learning to lead a new life with a new code of behavior
  • Helping others who are battling addiction

Alcoholics Anonymous presents very few statistics in support of the 12-step program. Perhaps this is because the 12 steps are not intended to make false promises, but instead offer support and guidance to those in recovery. Today, AA has a membership of over 2,000,000, and the 12-step program is used in over 180 countries.

Now that you know how the 12 steps and AA go together, how do they compare to group therapy?

Where Does Group Therapy Fit In?

Group therapy is generally paid for and led by a mediator of some sort, such as a professional counselor or therapist. Since group therapy is included in inpatient and outpatient treatment programs, the groups are not as diverse as traditional AA meetings. Members are often dealing with a current addiction and are asked to share their feelings and experiences. Group therapy is very helpful, especially in a rehabilitative setting, but 12-step meetings are better for long-term sobriety.

In 12-step meetings, there is no therapist or counselor in charge of the meetings. Instead, the group is made up of recovering addicts. Recovering addicts with long histories of sobriety lead the group, and the various stages of recovery are what make these groups so unique. Since addiction knows no boundaries, there are members from all walks of life. Groups are free, and there are never any fees requested.

Twelve-step members offer encouragement and support to each other as they move through life. There are no attendance records kept, and the only requirement to be a member of AA is the desire to stop using drugs or alcohol. Most importantly, there is no judging, no expectations. No one tells another person how to live their life.

Are the 12 Steps Needed to Get Sober?

Some recovering addicts are very accepting of the 12-step program, and others are not. If your loved one does not believe that they need the 12 steps to aid in their recovery, ask them why. Is it because the steps are heavily grounded in spirituality?

If this is the case, keep in mind that a person does not have to be religious or believe in God to move through the 12 steps. Although the steps are rooted in spirituality, many people have completed the 12 steps without believing in God or any Higher Power for that matter. No one is shunned for not being a believer, and this belief is not a requirement for membership.

What makes the 12-step program so powerful is that it helps a recovering addict to change their code of behavior, which is essential in long-term sobriety. In the beginning, it’s easy to confuse the stopping of a drug with sobriety. Yet detox and a typical 30-day treatment program will only carry a person so far. When this person enters the real world again, how will they deal with stress? How will they handle life-changing situations such as losing a loved one?

AA meetings provide a safe haven for recovering addicts through all stages of their journey. The atmosphere is humble and non-judgemental, and as recovering addicts move through their journey, they are able to take responsibility for their actions and help others who are struggling with addiction as well.

Twelve-step members are not perfect. Some have severe mental and emotional problems. Others try to offer advice in the beginning stages until they see that they need to give up this control. But, there is a reason why there are millions of 12-step members and that these meetings have been around for over seven decades. This program really does work, and it sets the foundation for long-term sobriety, happiness and fulfillment, not just the stopping of abuse.